A lawsuit opens the book on Van Morrison
'Only stupid people sue" is an axiom among public figures who feel they have been libeled by an author or journalist. And yet thank heaven there are stupid people, and thank heaven they do sue. Because if Van Morrison hadn't spent the past two years trying to keep Clinton Heylin's interesting new biography, "Van Morrison: Can You Feel the Silence?" off the shelves, I never would have heard of it.
A few weeks ago, I noticed a story in Publishers Weekly about Van's lawyers maneuvering against Heylin's publishers in Britain, where it is relatively easy to put a lid on unflattering or allegedly damaging stories. His lawyers also tried to work over the Chicago Review Press, Heylin's publisher in the United States, where libel laws generally favor the press.
In addition, Morrison's lawyers have filed copyright infringement actions against Heylin, saying he has no right to quote from Van's songs. The brief quotes he does use seem to me -- and to Heylin's lawyers -- to fall well within the so-called "fair use" guidelines operative in both the United States and Britain.
What's the mercurial Irish songster's beef? Obviously, the book merchandises the usual rock-star fare: boozing, contract disputes, an eye for the ladies. Morrison's whining, some of it fired off before the book appeared, consists of boilerplate legal mumbo jumbo: "outrageously false allegations" . . . "malice and reckless disregard" . . . blah blah blah.
At the end of the day, I think Morrison didn't want to be written about except in the most flattering light. He has nattered about writing an autobiography, but nothing has come of that.
"Morrison isn't interested in winning the case," Heylin says of the British litigation. "There is no way he would ever get on the stand and address any of the issues in the book. He's got too much to lose. It's about stalling the publisher and trying to suppress the book."
In fact, some of Morrison's maneuvers have cast a shadow over "Silence." For instance, Heylin does not delve into the rich history of litigation between Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis, the eight-times-married sister of Jerry Lee Lewis, who cut the album "You Win Again" with Van in 2000. In a 2001 interview with London's Daily Mirror, Lewis spoke about having an affair with Morrison and later filed sexual discrimination and wrongful dismissal charges against him after he dumped her from a world concert tour. Morrison called her account of the alleged affair a "complete and utter fabrication."
In July of last year, Lewis lost her claim of wrongful dismissal, and last January, she dropped her discrimination action in return for $22,500. None of these details is in Heylin's book, the author explains, in part because Morrison won a gag order in the Lewis litigation.
What is in the book? Plenty of good stuff, especially a wonderful chapter on Van's brief Boston interlude in 1968. Morrison and his former wife, Janet Planet, were on the run from some heavies at his New York record company, and fled to Cambridge. Here, in the company of musicians John Payne, John Sheldon, Joey Beebo, and Tom Kielbania, Morrison played venues like the Catacombs and the Psychedelic Supermarket and teased out the sound of one of his greatest albums, "Astral Weeks."
"We spent a lot of time rehearsing in my basement," recalls the then-17-year-old Sheldon, who has since gone on to tour with and write for James Taylor. "Van tried to move into my house, but my mom wouldn't let him."
So what is in those "Pumping Iron" outtakes that Arnold Schwarzenegger bought back from a partnership that included the original filmmaker, George Butler, in 1990? Provincetown's Peter Manso, who has been thrown into the Schwarzenegger story since the reappearance of his salacious 1977 Oui magazine interview with the bodybuilder, thinks his friend Butler sold potentially compromising footage back to the aspiring public figure. Butler, who divides his time between New Hampshire and Manhattan, says no.
"There were perhaps some smoking derringers in the outtakes," Butler says, "but no smoking guns." What is an example of a smoking derringer? "Maybe Arnold told a quaint joke in the gym. There are a lot of rumors out there about a Hitler salute, or sex stuff, in the outtakes, and they are all untrue."
Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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